Pubdate: Sat, 03 Feb 2018
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2018 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Solomon Israel
Page: A10


Excluding convicted drug dealers from exoneration unfair, cannabis
advocate says

PRIME Minister Justin Trudeau must have expected questions about
cannabis legalization at his town hall event in Winnipeg on Wednesday
night, but he might not have anticipated this one.

In light of the Liberal government's plans to offer some kind of
amnesty to Canadians with cannabis possession convictions, Manitoba
cannabis advocate Steven Stairs asked: "Would your government be
considering pardons for people who are being convicted of trafficking

"Small-time drug dealers, pot sales, guy on the corner, whatever you
want to call them, but those people are just as peaceful, mostly, as
the other people that have been charged, and I don't find it fair that
you would exclude them from the pardon system," he said.

Before answering, the prime minister ran through his government's
usual rhetoric about cannabis legalization.

"Right now, our young people have far-too-easy access to marijuana,
and we need to change that, because regardless of what you may think
of how harmful marijuana may or may not be, we know that the impact on
the developing brain is something we want to minimize and avoid,"
Trudeau said to the audience of 1,800 Manitobans.

Regulating cannabis sales in the same way as alcohol sales will keep
it away from kids, Trudeau said.

"Think about it, there's no black market for alcohol. No pusher in any
stairwell, in any place, is going to ask you for ID before they sell
you a joint," he said.

"Secondly, right now, people who purchase marijuana are almost
inevitably linked into organized crime," the prime minister said,
citing a Liberal talking point contradicted by research from the
federal Justice Department.

"That is our approach on marijuana, get the criminal element out of it
and keep our kids safer and our communities safer, that's why we're
doing this," he concluded before answering Stairs' question.

"Yes, I've said that we will look, after the law has been changed, at
pardons for people who have been convicted of possession, but we are
not at this time thinking of pardons for people convicted of
trafficking or pushing or dealing."

Stairs, who is a legally registered medical cannabis user, said the
prime minister's answer to his question was exactly what he expected.

"The reason I asked it, even though people would be upset, is because
it has to be asked," he said.

"And it has to be deemed topic-worthy in the eye of the public. The
more I ask these questions, the more other people ask these questions,
the more it will be deemed relevant by society, and maybe actually
stop being stigmatized as a question."

When most people think about drug trafficking, they tend to envision
"cartels and guns and violence and all these different things," Stairs

"But the reason why I get up there and ask these questions is so
people can see that it's not some gangster-looking guy asking, 'Hey,
are you going to let me have a pardon?' No, it's regular, everyday
people who open dispensaries and try to help their patient friends and
things like that."

Canada's legal regimes for access to cannabis for medical purposes
have long been inadequate, Stairs said.

"There are huge, precedent-setting legal arguments that say the access
isn't there, so people have been filling that access with their own
personal freedoms on the line," he said.

Stairs appeared unimpressed by parts of Trudeau's answer to his
question, especially the claim that a black market for alcohol doesn't

(Recent data on black-market alcohol sales in Canada appear to be
unavailable, but a 1997 report by the Mackenzie Institute cites a
contemporaneous claim by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario that
illegal alcohol accounted for 11 per cent of the province's liquor

Trudeau's statement about organized crime and cannabis also raised
Stairs' hackles.

"I think that the only way that they can convince Canadians that there
are huge criminal elements involved in cannabis is by giving these
one-sided, narrowly focused talking points," he said.

Stairs outlined his long-term strategy for political

The idea of pardoning people with cannabis-possession convictions
while refusing pardons to those with cannabis trafficking convictions
is "arbitrary," he said.

But by raising the topic, maybe the prime minister would give it some
thought, Stairs said.

"Maybe (Public Safety Minister) Ralph Goodale will start thinking
about it," he said. "And maybe some other people will start thinking
about it. Maybe there will be some lobbying efforts from some
organizations out there, like the John Howard Society or something
like that, something that's about helping people with pardons and
getting back on the straight and narrow."

Stairs also asked Trudeau how he felt about having a strain of
cannabis named after him - Winnipeg-based cannabis producer Delta 9
cannabis offers a variety called "Justin Trudope."

The prime minister didn't respond to that part of Stairs' question,
and Stairs said he didn't expect him to.
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